Demonstration of Solidarity of Christians and Jews at Temple Adath Israel: Friday, August 18, 2017

Thanks to support from our Christian friends for the Jewish community on Friday. With me is Rev. Marsha Charles who helped to organize this demonstration of solidarity at Temple Adath Israel. She is a mensch and my former student at Lexington Theological Seminary!

 

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Elie Wiesel: Neutrality

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

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TRUMP, HITLER, AND THE RETURN OF FASCISM

TRUMP, HITLER, AND THE RETURN OF FASCISM

Laurence H. Kant

 

Many, including Melania Trump, have assured us that Donald isn’t Hitler. Some commentators object to the comparison outright; others simply bleat the equivalence hysterically, without further explanation. All should contend with the evidence:

 

  • Trump’s tweeting a Mussolini quotation and retweeting neo-Nazis, white supremacists;
  • Trump’s belated (and weak) disavowal of David Duke and the KKK;
  • Trump’s refusal to condemn or even rebuke Jew-hating tirades—including death threats and concentration camp oven imagery—against Jewish journalists who’ve criticized   him (Bethany Mandel, Ben Shapiro, and Jonathan Weisman);
  • Official association of Trump’s campaign with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, giving talk-show host, James Edwards, a VIP press parking space and interview with Donald Trump, Jr. at a Memphis rally, and designating William Johnson a California Trump delegate to the Republican convention;
  • Ivana Trump’s Vanity Fair statement (1990) that her husband kept a copy of Hitler’s collected speeches, “My New Order,” in his bedside cabinet (which Trump acknowledged);
  • The right-arm salute Trump invokes at his rallies, recalling the Nazi salute (some dispute this, but, given his media skills, it’s safe to assume that Trump knows the symbolic effect of every image he uses);
  • Trump’s use of “America First,” alluding to an isolationist, early-40’s U.S. movement that was rife with Jew hatred and called for negotiations with Hitler;
  • Trump’s October 13 speech that refers to international bankers, media, and global elites that allegedly strip the U.S. of its rightful power—a trope that recalls the classic Jew-hating screed, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” , and has numerous and widespread parallels in other Jew-hating rhetoric as well;

 

Does anyone really believe that this self-described “really smart” Wharton grad draws on the Nazi tradition of political rhetoric, symbolism, and ethnic/racial scapegoating unawares?

The onus should be on those who deny the obvious connections to explain in detail why they’re not relevant.

Countless other items of evidence connect Trump to fascism more generally:

 

  • Using threatening gestures, encouraging supporters to beat up protesters and intimidate critics;
  • Forecasting (and encouraging) “riots” at the Republican convention;
  • Calling reporters “scum” and implicitly threatening them, and barring major media organizations (left and right) from his campaign events;
  • Calling to change libel/slander laws to curb criticism of public figures;
  • Demonizing ethnic groups: labeling Mexicans “rapists” and “drug addicts,” calling for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented aliens, advocating a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and demanding the recusal of a judge as biased and unqualified because of his ethnic heritage;
  • Targeting the disabled by mocking the arm and facial movements of New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski;
  • Praising dictators, including North Korean Kim Jong-un, for murdering potential  enemies; Chinese rulers, for cracking down on Tiananmen Square protesters; and Vladimir Putin for being “a leader’’;
  • Openly and frequently calling for the jailing of his political opponent, Hillary Clinton—this happens as a matter of course in totalitarian societies from the Congo to Cuba to North Korea;

 

No, Trump doesn’t outline a genocidal philosophy or well-thought-out plans to implement discrimination—what coherent policy strategy has he ever enunciated?—but he is aware of Hitler and Mussolini and riffs off of them. He knows who they are and borrows their ideas—most notably the use of intimidation and violence to acquire political power.

Does this make him more like a third-world dictator (Marco Rubio’s assessment)? Would Mussolini serve as a better comparison than Hitler? Silvio Berlusconi?

We don’t know what he sincerely believes, but does that really matter? We can only judge him by his words, his actions, and what he promotes.

We d­­­on’t know what Trump would actually do if elected president. Given the American system of checks and balances, his attempt at authoritarian rule would likely be limited by the realities of governance. Yet, is that a risk worth taking?

Why don’t commentators address the specific evidence instead of asserting that Trump isn’t Hitler? Many in the press minimize the Trump phenomenon by laughing off his words or by rationalizing the crazy stuff he does. The reason is clear: because the evidence is so troubling and disturbing, and the implications so appalling, that they would rather it simply go away.

If we’ve learned anything from the holocaust, it’s that we can’t take on the role of bystanders and let troubling events transpire by ignoring or glossing over them.

Too frequently in the past, politicians and commentators trivially compared political adversaries to Hitler and the Nazis, leading to what many call “Godwin’s law”: the inevitable invocation of Hitler or Nazis to refute an argument. Neither mindless name-calling nor willful ignorance force us to face the facts before us.

The facts are clear: Trump uses language, images, and tactics that directly recall those of the Nazis and Hitler, along with other fascists. To allow him to speak destructively by incorporating this pernicious tradition and to permit him to encourage violence without calling him to meaningful account does nothing more than offer him a media get-out-of-jail free card. It amounts to an abdication of the sacred responsibility the founders gave the press in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Who is willing to stand up and be counted?

 

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My Family, The Holocaust, and ‘Original Sin’

KastonowiczFamilyBelarus2a

 

I was recently discussing the concept of original sin in a workshop I was leading. I was explaining that I thought that this was a legitimate concept, even though I did not share it. If I ever did accept original sin, I would certainly apply it to the holocaust.

This photo was taken c. 1905 in Pinsk, Belarus. In the center is my grandmother, Leah Kaston (Kaplan). Standing behind her are my great-grandfather Ya’akov and my great-mother Rivka Kaston. To the far left is my Aunt Bunya, my grandmother’s sister. She tried to come to this country around 1915, but was turned back by immigration services at Ellis Island because of red eye (conjunctivitis). She returned to Belarus. Later her husband, and some of her children followed her, and they went to live in Babruysk, Belarus. Somewhere between 1941-1943, when the Nazis entered Babruysk, they shot my Aunt Bunya and her family and dumped them in mass graves.

When I was growing up, my grandmother cried frequently about her sister. There were always hushed tones and requests to me that I please not ask too many questions about this. I heard the sobbing, but I did not really get to ask or say much. I have always thought that this affected the upbringing of my mom and her sister. My mom felt neglected and unattended. Is it any wonder that my grandmother could not give more attention to my mom when she felt so deeply wounded by the murder and absence of her beloved Bunya? There are many families with holes and wounds like this, especially many Jewish families, and sometimes I wonder how we might close the circle and find a way to restore the gaping hole that persists to this day in my family and in many others who went through this.

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The Kastonowicz Family c. 1900 in Pinsk, Belarus

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These are photos of my maternal family, the Kastonowiczs, c. 1900 in Pinsk, Belarus. The first photo from left to right: My great-grandmother, Rivka; Uncle Joe; Uncle Oscar; and my great-grandfather, Ya’akov. Uncle Oscar was a wonderful human being, beloved in our family.

I don’t know the names of the children in the second photo: on the far left is my Aunt Bunya (murdered in 1943 in Bobruysk by the Nazis in the Holocaust); the older man on the left is my great-grandfather, Ya’akov. Sitting to his left (our right) is my great-grandmother, Rivka; standing in the center is my grandmother, Leah. Of the four children, I would assume that one or two were murdered by the Nazis in Pinsk, but I’m not certain about that. At least one survived. There were others probably murdered as well (not all born yet presumably), but names and numbers are unclear.

Bunya attempted to come to this country in 1920, but was rejected by the Immigration Service at Ellis Island because of Red Eye (conjuncitivitis). She went back to Pinsk and Bobruysk in Belarus. Afterwards her husband followed her, because he could not live without her. Some of the children went as well. Later they all ended up murdered by the Nazis. My grandmother wept about this loss for as long as I knew her. It left a hole and a traumatic legacy for our family that persists to this day. When President Obama announced his executive order, I felt a measure of relief for my Aunt Bunya that justice had been served in some small way.

While there are several factors, the story of Bunya has a role to play in why I chose to enter the field of history of religion, New Testament studies, and Jewish studies. It is part of who I am today and why I do what I do. It always will be.

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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Watch Rare Interview Footage from Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s Father

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Nazi Boycotts and Today’s Boycotts against Israel

(via Mickey Hernandez) “Eighty-one years ago today, the Nazis carried out the first nationwide, planned action against Jews in Germany: a boycott targeting Jewish businesses and professionals. SA members stood menacingly outside Jewish-owned shops and the offices of Jewish professionals, the Star of David was painted in yellow and black on store windows, and acts of violence against individuals occurred. The boycott, which lasted only a single day and was ignored by many individual Germans, marked the beginning of a larger campaign against Jews in Germany.”
This is what the Nazis did to Jews 81 years ago on this day. And once again many groups such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), a few academic and labor organizations, and leadership in some Christian denominations propose to boycott Israeli Jews today. And right now acts of violence in Europe against Jews in Europe are surging. Have some people so easily forgotten the past, or is it in their interest to forget?

“Learn more about the boycott and its aftermath: http://bit.ly/1iWq2xi

NaziBoycott1

“Photo: Members of the Storm Troopers (SA), with boycott signs, block the entrance to a Jewish-owned shop. One of the signs exhorts: “Germans! Defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!” Berlin, Germany, April 1, 1933. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.”

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Woman who Rescued her Husband from Dachau Dies at 111

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Fleeing the Holocaust: A Story of Travel to Iran

FlightToTehran1

The story of children who came eventually to Tehran to flee the holocaust: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/gathering_fragments/doll.asp

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How We Should Respond to a Pro-Nazi Teaching Assignment

This teaching assignment that compelled students to take a pro-Nazi position against Jews was obviously a bad mistake, but it is one in which we all of us (especially those in the Jewish community) need to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to the teacher. Justification of hatred is not something that is legitimate in a class teaching students how to think, especially in a classroom of teenagers. Yes, we can justify any horrible action or idea through reasoned argument, but humanism and our ethical principles have to intervene at some point. At the same time, the teacher was probably not intending to promote antisemitism and hatred, but rather the opposite. Further, all the time we permit actors in theater and film to portray Nazis (think Ralph Finnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List or Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang]), and we want them to do so in a convincing fashion. In fact, we applaud them for it and give them awards. This is not an easy topic, and it’s one where all of us can go astray. Let this event not be an opportunity for recrimination and shouting, but a teaching moment.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

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Courage to Resist

This is the story of those who plotted to assassinate Hitler. But it’s also the story of anyone who resists authority and conventional wisdom, of anyone who is a boat rocker. When you challenge what’s wrong, always be prepared to stand alone. In an ultimate sense you are not alone, but in the normal world you are. It’s a great lesson, though a very hard one:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_courage_to_resist_20130224/

 

This is a wonderful article by Chris Hedges, but I would also like to see attention drawn to Henning von Tresckow, who was the prime mover of the plot to assassinate Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) and a staunch opponent of antisemitism: http://mysticscholar.org/last-words-of-a-hero-general-hermann-henning-von-tresckow/

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Argo Oscar: Oy

The victory of Argo at the Oscars is a major disappointment. The film is not much more than a video game played on the silver screen. It’s Hollywood fast food, pablum served to those who do not want to think much about history, art, or the Middle East. The creators of this film assumed that the audience was ignorant and mindless, and the Academy of Motion Pictures rewarded them for their cynical manipulations.

The film is historical flimflam. So many of the basic, asserted facts in the film are simply untrue: In reality everything went smoothly at the Tehran airport with no problems from Iranian security or customs; there was no airport chase; there was never a cancellation of the mission at the last minute; there was no location scouting in Tehran; the escapees were not in one house, but two; the escapees did in fact have access to the outdoors; there was no film producer played by Alan Arkin; the film vastly overstates the role of the CIA and vastly understates the Canadian component of the effort (which was in fact primary); the British and New Zealand embassies did not turn away the Americans, but helped them in many ways; and Ben Affleck resembles Latino Antonio Mendes about as accurately as Bible paintings that depict the historical Jesus as blond and blue-eyed.

The lack of historical accuracy is galling given that Steven Spielberg made every effort to adhere to veracity when he directed the epic film, Lincoln. Even more important, we are dealing right now with real, live Iranians and Muslims in the Middle East. Producing a film that distorts history and outright lies destroys American credibility and makes us look almost as manipulative and hateful as some of the leaders in the Iranian government. How do we criticize Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for denying the Holocaust, when an Oscar-winning American film fabricates historical events in Iran out of thin air?

Iran has an ancient history, a rich culture, and a sophisticated, intelligent population. Yet, the film not only depicts Iranians as cartoonish caricatures, but also creates the impression of Iran as a giant, throbbing blob-like mob of dark, olive-skinned paranoid idiots. It reeks of Islamophobia, indulges in classic stereotypes about the Middle East and Iran, and belittles others whom we do not understand. Not only is this morally wrong, but it also harms our capacity as a society to figure out how to deal with a nation that has enormous influence over our strategic interests and is threatening to obliterate Israel with a nuclear weapon.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has done many hideous things: torturing and murdering political dissidents, arresting and humiliating political opponents, suppressing freedom of speech and the press, persecuting and murdering Bahais and gays, discriminating against other minorities, preventing free elections, spying on its own people, imprisoning US diplomats, engaging in global, state-sponsored terrorism, denying the holocaust, and threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon. There is plenty to criticize here. Why would a film misstate the facts about the hostage episode and depict most Iranians as stupid, ignorant? Doing so does nothing to help anyone and seriously impairs the credibility of those trying to stop the Iranian government from engaging in nuclear terror.

Yes, Argo is a fun film to watch. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and keeps viewers hooked for every moment of the film.  But the world is not a video game, nor are people stick-figure cutouts. And, no matter what postmodern academic critics (and also apparently Hollywood directors and writers) claim, events really do happen in ways that historians and journalists can often verify. Indeed, while interpretation is enormously multifaceted and complex, we do not live in a world where facts are irrelevant and non-existent.

Maybe the film would not have garnered this kind of attention, but a film that adhered to the basic facts, focused on a story that was nuanced and subtle, and developed characters that felt authentic and genuine would have been moving, transcendent, and actually added something meaningful to our increasingly disintegrating world. Unfortunately, Argo does the opposite.

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Political Leadership: Misconceptions and Myths

Many environmentalists have criticized President Obama for not leading on climate change. I have defended him on this (see http://mysticscholar.org/climate/), arguing that environmentalists need to produce a movement that is politically effective. This is a question of what political leadership is: 1) having the courage to take positions that your constituents do not support in order to produce legislation that will have long-term positive affects; or 2) having the courage to wait until your constituents are close to supporting a position after you have guided them and persuaded them over time–then you can help them to get over the last impediments to produce the same legislation. It’s my view that #1 can produce short-term results, but cannot produce lasting political change, which only happens with #2.

Of course , there are times of crisis when #1 may be the way to go, in an emergency or a time of horror when waiting is morally and practically indefensible. However, helping people over the last hill that they need to get over is generally what political leadership in a democratic society is. I can’t think of many examples where political leaders in the U.S. have successfully advocated for a policy well beyond where people are ready to go. I include Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt in this. Each one of them took positions as they made sense both from both a moral and political point of view.

For example, it took Lincoln a long time to push for emancipation of slaves; he did not do so until he thought he could so successfully. Now you can criticize him for not doing this sooner given the horror and evil of slavery, but he successfully pulled it off where many others might not have. In the case of Roosevelt, many have criticized him for not intervening sooner in the Holocaust (e.g. not entering the war sooner or not bombing Auschwitz), but the U.S. eventually won the war and defeated Hitler, ending his reign of evil. That was not always a given–it wasn’t even a given that the U.S. would enter the war. It’s easy to criticize Roosevelt in hindsight, but the result was the end of the Nazis. Arm-chair theorists can hypothesize all they want, but political leadership involves difficult decisions that may seem cowardly, yet are in fact acts of courage given the time and situation.

Now, at the same time, it’s the job of activist leaders like Bill McKibben to persuade people to support their positions so that political leaders can act. That what abolitionist leaders in the nineteenth century did. It was true for civil rights leaders such as MLK. It’s the same for women’s rights advocates in the early 1900’s and more recently and for gay rights activists now.

Leadership is different when applied in different contexts. A political leader does not have the same role as an activist leader. Of course, some politicians can AFFORD to act, because their constituents will support them anyway. That was true of abolitionists, and it’s true today of many northeastern and west-coast politicians on the environment. But it’s different for politicians the bulk of whose constituents oppose a particular position and will continue to oppose that politician no matter how artfully or powerfully they craft their oratory.

Of course, many politicians misjudge events either by not acting whey could do so effectively or by acting before people are ready. For example, FDR might have been able to push for healthcare reform, while Bill Clinton did not have the political climate to win on healthcare. Of course, I could be wrong about that too (Clinton’s failure may have set the stage for Obama’s success): in the end, these leadership calculations are an art, not a science.

If you want to push for change before people agree with you, you should be an activist leader (or a writer or scholar or artist), not a political one. That’s one reason why I personally was never interested in professional life in politics. I do not have the patience to operate in such an environment, but thank God there are people who do. Politics is all about patience and the waiting game. It’s only in retrospect that political movements look as if they come from nowhere. They almost never do.

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Israel Taking Holocaust Restitution Into Own Hands

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Theresienstadt Propaganda Film and the Holocaust

A sad and revealing story about a Jewish director who in 1944 made a propaganda film under Nazi supervision at the Theresienstadt camp in order to fool the International Red Cross. This film was just re-released to remind us not only of the holocaust, but to show us the use of propaganda to propagate a lie:
http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/04/27/3087086/rare-nazi-propaganda-film-showcases-theresienstadt-as-paradise-for-inmates

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The Auschwitz Album

These images are particularly powerful because they show the victims at Auschwitz as real human beings rather than near-corpses (“muselmann”) or piles of actual corpses.

The Only Surviving Album of Auschwitz: http://www1.yadvashem.org/exhibitions/album_Auschwitz/mutimedia/index.HTML

 

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A New Day

A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010

A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.

Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.

What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.

During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.

What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.

The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.

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Arab Antisemitism and Yusuf al-Qaradawi


This is an excellent primer on Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e138.htm

Also an essay on Arab antisemitism by Richard Cohen
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/28/AR2011022805199.html

In the meantime, Hamas resists letting the UN include the holocaust in its human rights curriculum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/28/hamas-un-holocaust-lessons-gaza

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Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are close, as this article indicates.  And now Hamas has invited one of the charismatic leaders of the Brotherhood to Gaza, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Egyptian Qaradawi has frequently called for jihad against Israel and Jews, the destruction of Israel, and has said that he himself looks forward to coming to Israel to personally shoot Jews.

http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e137.htm

For more on Qaradawi and his hatred of Jews, see the following:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/sheikh-qaradawi-seeks-total-war/71626/

http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=35&x_article=2000 (this discusses not only Qaradawi’s anti-semitism, his love for Hitler and his hopes for another even more successful Jewish holocaust, but also his support for female genital mutilation and wife beating, suicide killers, the fatwa ordering the murder of Salman Rushdie, the execution of apostates, and laws treating religious minorities differently.  The author emphasizes the whitewashing of Muslim Brotherhood hatred and violence in the New York Times.

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“Palestine, an Obsession of Radical West, Not Arabs”

This essay is impressive.  Brendan O’Neil absolutely nails it.  This is all about victims and who is the biggest victim.

Back when Israelis looked like victims in the fifties and sixties, the same lefties loved Israelis and Jews (by the way, I’m no conservative either).  Israelis and Jews were good victims then too.  Until Israel won wars in 1967 and 1973, the Israelis and Jews (because of the Holocaust experience) were the favored victims.  Many Jews were glad to have their support, but now I realize what that support actually meant.  Jews are fine for these protesters as long as they remain victims:  holocaust survivors, victims of anti-semitism, and poor Israelis facing massive odds against far more populous Arabs.  However, God forbid that they should defend themselves and emerge victorious.  Like the Palestinians, Jews were a tribe that middle-class empathizers could “coo” over.  We’re still a tribe.  Only we’ve made the mistake of forming a prosperous, democratic county and protecting ourselves.

There’s no question that Israel has done things that are problematic, especially the settlement policy.  Israelis have also fallen into the trap of responding to every Palestinian provocation with force.  There’s racism against Arabs that is prevalent in Israel.

Still this is a democratic society (the only full-fledged democracy in the Middle East) that is under siege from surrounding countries who want to annihilate it and to remove all Jews from the Middle East.  Israel’s own Arab citizens have more economic opportunity, mobility, and freedom than the vast majority of other Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East. It is a diverse society that has women serving in the military, gay pride parades, as well as Arab and Ethiopian Jews.

In the end, whether you are Israeli/Jewish or Palestinian, most in the West look at you as a symbol, a trope.  Not many really give a hoot about you, except in so far as you conform to some preconceptions that elicit feelings of tenderness or revulsion.  It’s not just liberals, but conservatives, as well, especially some fundamentalist Christians.  The latter see Palestinians as Muslim allies of the Anti-Christ ready to destroy Christianity, while Jews are ancient witnesses to Christ whose presence in the “Holy Land” will help usher in the Second Coming.  Of course, in this scenario, the returned Christ will pretty much kill all of us, Muslim and Jew alike, unless we convert.

It would be nice if people could look at us, both Jews and our Palestinian cousins, as fellow human beings.  Perhaps that’s too much to ask.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/palestine-an-obsession-of-radical-west-not-arabs/comments-e6frg6zo-1226006572220

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Aqedah (Genesis 22): Binding of Abraham and Isaac

See Laurence H. Kant, “Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text:  Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on  Mt. Moriah  (Gen. 22)”:  “Part 1,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 77-109; “Part 2, Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 161- 94: AqedahPart1a andAqedahPart2a

See also Laurence H. Kant, “Arguing with God and Tiqqun Olam:  A Response to Andre LaCocque on the Aqedah,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 203-19 (this was a response to an article by André Lacocque, “About the ‘Akedah’ in Genesis 22:  A Response to Laurence H. Kant,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 191-201): AqedahResponseToLacocque

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Antisemitism on Rise in West

See Laurence H. Kant, “Anti-Semitism on Rise in West,” op-ed, Lexington Herald Leader, January 8, 2007:  Antisemitism1

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“Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text: Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22)”

By Laurence H. Kant

1) “Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text:  Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on  Mt. Moriah  (Gen. 22)”: “Part 1,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 77-109; “Part 2”  Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 161-94

2) “Arguing with God and Tiqqun Olam:  A Response to Andre LaCocque on the Aqedah,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 203-19 (this was a response to an article by André Lacocque, “About the ‘Akedah’ in Genesis 22:  A Response to Laurence H. Kant,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 191-201)

AqedahArticlePart1a; AqedahArticlePart2a; and AqedLacocqueResp1

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Repair the World

We Jews are haunted by the cries of Abel’s heirs from the earth. The specter of annhilation has a way of improving your hearing. Hence tikkun olam, repair of the world.

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Oskar Schindler Museum

http://jta.org/news/article/2010/06/09/2739531/exhibit-at-schindler-factory-site-recalls-nazi-era-krakow
Krakow (Poland) opens Oskar Schindler Museum at site of his factory.

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Martin Heidegger and the Jewish Question

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/books/review/Kirsch-t.html

Two very different approaches to Heidegger’s association with the Nazis. Heidegger is one of the most well-known philosophers of the the 20th century (very influential on post-modern thought) and a leading existentialist thinker

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Lech Kaczynski and Polish-Jewish Reconcilation

http://jta.org/news/article/2010/04/12/1011536/kaczynski-leaves-legacy-of-polish-jewish-reconciliation
May his memory be for a blessing. It’s very impressive how far Jewish-Polish relations have come over the last 75 years.

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Two Very Different Views of Iran and the Middle East

Here are two very different views of Iran and the Middle East:

1)  The first is from a conservative blog and discusses a book written by an Iranian, Reza Khalili, a CIA spy who was a member of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran.  He is convinced that either the US (the preferred option) or Israel must attack Iran and that the Iranian people are hoping for such an attack.  It is important to note that he does NOT advocate an invasion, but rather an attack on the Revolutionary Guard.  He also points out that most Iranians essentially love the US and are not unfriendly to Israel.  He opposes an invasion, because NOBODY wants their nation invaded.  He is of the opinion that Iranians cannot stand the current government, but they have no power to overthrow it.

http://www.michaeltotten.com/

2) The second is by a left-wing Israeli journalist, Uri Avneri.  He is of the view that there is very little the US or Israel will or can do about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.  Israel’s and Jews’ connection to Iran goes back several thousand years, and the positive relationship cannot be preempted by the group of crazies that now run the country.  The effect of an attack by Israel would shut down the world economy, and the US will never allow Israel to do that.  And, given Iraq and Afghanistan and the US’s own economic woes, the US is in no position to attack either.  Obama is pushing Israel on East Jerusalem, because he wants Israel to make a choice between its building policy in the Jerusalem environs and a strong sanctions policy against Iran led by the US.  If Israel pursues its current settlement policy, then the US will not pursue the sanctions.  This is the choice that the US is presenting Israel.

http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1270319001/

At for the Khalili interview, I am not sure that an attack on Iran, which would include both the nuclear sites and the revolutionary guards without an invasion, would lead to the overthrow of the current government.  There’s a lot of wishful thinking there, and I don’t necessarily buy that.   It’s possible, but, even if the current government falls, the new government will very likely pursue nuclear weapons, although it will take them longer if the nuclear sites are destroyed.  Khalili is no doubt correct about an invasion and the long-term negative impact of such an approach.   Yet even a targeted attack on the Republican Guard and the nuclear sites could produce a understandably self-protective reaction on the part of a broad cross-section of the Iranian people.  You might hate your oppressive government, but you don’t want foreigners to do your own work for you.  That just makes people angry.  I do believe that Khalili is correct about the religious views of the Iranian leaders–that they believe that the use of nuclear weapons will initiate the public return of the twelfth mahdi and a worldwide victory for Islam.  Many in the West find this hard to imagine, but all we have to do is listen to late night radio and hear what many in the conservative Christian community believe.  It’s pretty much the same thing, with victory coming to Christ and Christians instead of the Mahdi and Muslims.  We should take very seriously the religious views of Iranian leaders, because they actually believe what they say.

The second piece is correct in its analysis of the US view of the Jerusalem situation.  I believe that the Obama administration and many US foreign policy analysts (including those from a variety of prior administrations) believe that progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict will give the US more leverage in dealing with Iran.  Whether this is actually true or not is another matter (whatever the merits or flaws in the Obama admin’s position on settlements).  Arab governments are terrified of Iran regardless of Israel, and progress on Israel-Palestine will likely not change the behavior of the Iranian government and of those who fear it.  The Middle East is much more complex than Israel-Palestine, and the US should not be fixated on that as some kind of cure-all.  It might buy some time, but that will end quickly.   We are dealing with governments in the Middle East that, except for Israel, are, for the most part, corrupt dictatorships (often despised by their own people, as in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), and that makes the situation volatile no matter what happens with the Palestinians (For Arab countries, see most recently the democracy report card of the Arab Reform Initiative:   http://arab-reform.net/IMG/pdf/annual_rep_010_english.pdf , where Palestine, by the way, scores rather low).

This is a very difficult environment.  I have no idea what the solution is.  My own sense is that Israel will attack if it appears that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons, even if the US opposes such a move.  This could have profound consequences for the US-Israel relationship and, of course, for Israel.   That is why Israel has spent a lot of time cultivating its relationship with both India and China, both economically and militarily.  In the end, this is an existential question for Israelis.  Given the holocaust and the near decimation of world Jewry, Israel is acutely aware of what the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons would be.  Israelis will take enormous risks to prevent that from happening.  The best possibility right now might be the continuation of covert operations to slow down Iranian progress on the nuclear front, but that can only work for so long.  The effectiveness of sanctions is doubtful.

In reality, no one has a clear answer.  The best approach is for those of us are observers to try to understand the complexity of the dynamics at play and the different points of view of the people and nations involved.  At the same time, any kind of open dialogue is preferable.  This is a time when the lines of communication need to be open and when people of different backgrounds need to be talking with one another, even if there is very little apparent progress and even if they are not talking about the Middle East.  Sometimes just talking about gardening or sports builds the foundation for real understanding.  And I know that this may sound pollyannish, but we need prayer and meditation to surround this region with imagery of peace and light.

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Marek Edelman, Commander of Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, Obituary

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/world/europe/03edelman.html
This is a powerful and deeply spiritual story of a man who understood throughout his life what it means to face the most hideous choices. He never gave up his commitment to the preservation of life, no matter how precarious the situation: such a fundamental Jewish value. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Jewish Contract with God

From an e-mail I received

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To: The Lord G-d Almighty a.k.a. Ha’shem, Shadai, Elohim, etc.

From: The Jews: a.k.a. The Chosen People

Subject: Termination of Contract/Special Status (Chosen People)

As you are aware, the contract made between You and Abraham is up for
renewal, and this memorandum is to advise You that after, yea, those many
millennia of consideration, we, the Jews (The Chosen People) have decided
that we really do not wish to renew.

We should point out immediately that there is nothing in writing, and, contrary to popular beliefs, we (The Jews) have not really benefited too much from this arrangement. If You go back to the early years of our  arrangement, it definitely started off on the wrong footing. Not only was  Israel and Judea invaded almost every year, but we also went to enormous expense to erect not one but two Temples, and they
were both destroyed. All we have left is a pile of old stones called the Western Wall (of course You know all this, but we feel it’s a good thing to account for all the reasons we wish to terminate the contract).

After the Hittites, Assyrians, Goliaths, etc, not only were we beaten up almost daily, but then we were sold off as slaves to Egypt, of all countries, and really lost a few hundred years of development. Now, we realize that You went to a great deal of trouble to send Moses to lead us out of Egypt, and those poor Egyptian buggers were smitten (smote?)with all those plagues. But, reflecting on those years, we are  at a loss to understand why it took almost forty years to make a trip that El Al now does in 75 minutes.

Also, while not appearing to be  ungrateful, for years a lot of people have asked why Moses led us left  instead of right at Sinai? If we had gone right, we would have had the oil!

OK, so the oil was not part of the deal, but then the Romans came and we really were up to our necks in dreck. While it’s true that the Romans did give us water fit to drink, aqueducts, and baths, it was very disconcerting to walk down one of the vias, look up, and see oneof your friends or family nailed to a three-by-four looking for all the world like a sign post. Even one of our princes, Judah Ben Hur got caught up with Roman stuff and drove like a crazy man around the Coliseum. It’s a funny thing but many people swore that Ben Hur had an uncanny resemblance to Moses…go figure.

Then, of all things, one of our rabbis (teachers) declared himself “Son of You” (there was nothing said about this with Abe) and before we knew what was what, a whole new religion sprang up. To add insult to injury,
we were dispersed all over the world two or three times while this new religion really caught on! We were truly sorry to hear that the Romans executed him like so many others, but, …alas, (and this will make you
laugh,) once again WE were blamed.

Now here’s something we really don’t understand. That our rabbi really came into his own. Millions of people revered and worshipped his name and scriptures. ….. and still killed us by the millions. They claimed we drank the blood of new born infants, and controlled the world banks (Oy! if only that were so.) We could have bought them all off, and operated the world’s media and so on and so on. Are we beginning to make our point here?

OK so let’s fast-forward a few hundred years to the Crusades. Hoo boy! Again we were caught in the middle! They, the lords and knights, came from all over Europe to smack the Arabs and open up the holy places, but before we knew what hit us, they were killing us right, left, and center along with everyone else. Every time a king or a pope was down in the opinion polls, they called a crusade or holy war, and went on a killing rampage in our land.

Today it’s called Jihad. OK, so You tested us a little there, but then some bright cleric in Spain came up with the Inquisition. We all thought it was a new game show, but once again we and, we must admit, quite a few others were used as firewood for a whole new street lighting arrangement in major Spanish cities.

All right, so that ended after about a hundred years or so… in the scheme of things not a long time. But every time we settled down in one country or another, they kicked us out! So we wandered around a few hundred years or so, but it never changed. Finally we settled in a few countries but they insisted we all live in ghettoes…no Westchesters or Moscow for us. There we are in the ghettoes, when what do you know? The Russians come up with the Pogroms. We all thought they made a spelling mistake and misspelled programs, but we were dead wrong (no pun intended). Apparently, when there was nothing else for them to do, killing
the Jews (a.k.a. The Chosen People, are You getting our drift?) was the in thing.

Now comes some really tough noogies. We were doing quite well, thank You, in a small European country called Germany, when some house painter wrote a book, said a few things that caught on and became
their leader….whoo boy what a bad day that was for us…You know…Your Chosen People. We don’t really know where You were in the earth years 1940 to 1945. We know everyone needs a break now and then…..even Lord G-d Almighty needs some time off. But really…when we needed You most, You were never around. You are probably aware of this, but if You have forgotten, over six million of Your Chosen People, along with quite a few unchosen others, were murdered. They even made lampshades out of our skins. Look, we don’t want to dwell on the past, but it gets worse!

Here we are, it’s 1948, and millions of us are displaced yet again, when You really pull a fast one. We finally get our own land back! Yes!!! After all these years, You arrange for us to go back… then all the
Arab countries immediately declare war on us. We have to tell You that sometimes Your sense of humor really eludes us. Ok, so we win all the wars, but it’s now 2006 and nothing’s changed. We keep getting blown up, hijacked, and kidnapped. We have no peace whatsoever.

Enough is enough. So, we hope that You understand that nothing’s forever (except You of course) and we respectfully would like to pull out of our verbal agreement vis-a -vis being Your chosen people. Look, sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.  Let’s be friends over the next few eons and see what happens. How about this? We’re sure You recall that Abraham had a whole other family from Ishmael (the ones who got the oil). How about making them Your chosen people for a few thousand years?

Respectfully,

The Commitee To Be UN-Chosen

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